Today, Reps. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) released a new report they requested from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that calls for the federal government to update exposure and testing standards for mobile phone radiation. The GAO issued the report in response to a request sent last year by the three lawmakers who had asked the agency to commence for a thorough review of the status of existing research on the health risks of long-term mobile phone use, as well as the adequacy of the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) existing radiation exposure limits and testing requirements.
In light of the GAO's findings, Reps. Markey, Waxman and Eshoo are calling on the FCC to revise existing exposure and testing requirements for radiation emitted by mobile phones to reflect the most current scientific research.
"With mobile phones in the pockets and purses of millions of Americans, we need a full understanding of the long-term impact of mobile phone use on the human body, particularly in children whose brains and nervous systems are still developing," said Rep. Markey. "It has been 15 years since the FCC updated its requirements for the exposure and testing of mobile phones, and with the health of American consumers at stake, it is time we send these standards in for a check-up. I look forward to working with my Congressional colleagues and the FCC to ensure appropriate standards are established that reflect the latest science and the way consumers use their mobile phones today."
"The report shows we need more research on cell phones and their effects on human health," said Rep. Waxman. "The FCC should coordinate this research with federal health agencies to ensure that the health effects of cell phones are properly understood and appropriate emission standards are set."
"While the GAO report indicates there is not evidence to suggest using a cell phone causes cancer, it's important that safety standards are current and account for changing trends in cell phone use and technology," said Rep. Eshoo. "As the number of users of wireless technology grows exponentially, the FCC should reevaluate acceptable radiation emission levels to determine if they need to be adjusted."
A mobile phone, like any device that emits radio signals, transmits radio-frequency (RF) energy. At high levels, such as those used in X-rays, RF energy can heat biological tissues and cause damage. Mobile phones do not operate at a level high enough to cause this heating effect, but questions remain about whether RF energy emitted by mobile phones could cause other health issues, such as cancer.
According to the new GAO report, FCC's existing limit on the amount of radiation a mobile phone can safely emit is based on outdated research and should be re-examined. GAO investigators found that the current limit, which FCC established 15 years ago, "may not reflect the latest evidence" of the effects of mobile phone radiation. Since FCC last assessed the standards in 1996, scientists have made significant progress in understanding thermal and other effects of RF energy exposure.
Furthermore, the FCC's current testing protocols may not reflect the realistic conditions in which cell phones are used. The report states that the agency "has not reassessed its testing requirements to ensure that mobile phones do not exceed the RF energy exposure limit in all possible usage conditions." For example, FCC does not require testing in which a subject stores the phone in a pocket, directly against the body, while using an ear piece to have a conversation. With approximately 286 million mobile phone subscribers in the United States, including growing numbers of children, the lawmakers believe it is vitally important to modernize testing requirements to determine whether mobile radiation has any detrimental short- or long-term health effects.
In July, a spokeswoman for the FCC announced that the agency would conduct a "routine review" of mobile phone radiation standards to determine whether they required updating. However, she added, the agency is "confident that, as set, the emissions guidelines for devices pose no risks to consumers." Reps. Markey, Waxman, and Eshoo called on the FCClast May not only to reassess the current radiation threshold in light of more recent research, but also to review mobile phone testing procedures to ensure that they reflect the realistic conditions under which consumers use their phones, such as where individuals hold and store their phones.
Rep. Markey was the first member of Congress to call for an investigation of the possible effects of mobile phone usage on human health, asking the GAO in 2001 to conduct a comprehensive study on how the radiation released during phone use impacts the body.